When the summer months hit, you don’t want to be left sweating it out because of a faulty air conditioning unit. Before your air conditioner goes out, there are signs you should be watching out for. Being able to recognize the signs that your air conditioner is in distress and knowing how to address it can save you big bucks in the long run.

Warm Air

You turn on your air conditioner, expecting to feel a rush of cool air. Instead, you’re met with a slightly warm stream that is far less than refreshing. The first step seems obvious, but go check your thermostat. There’s a chance it wasn’t turned to the cooling function or that the temperature was turned up too high.

If the thermostat is set to cool and the temperature is set low but you’re still feeling warm air, there’s a chance there’s an issue with your compressor not cooling the air properly. Another possibility is that you’re low on refrigerant, the fluid that cools your air. You could also be facing a duct problem. There could either be a blockage restricting the airflow or a leak in the ductwork that’s pulling air from outside or from a poorly insulated attic.

This is a really common problem, especially in the summer months when many homeowners have forgotten to get an Ac tune-up. If it’s a severe problem, you could end up having to replace your entire air conditioning unit. Call in the professionals to diagnose the problem and recommend a solution.

Water Leak

As you walk past your air conditioner, you suddenly feel the shock of a cold puddle on the floor. That’s when you notice the leak. Your first step should be to turn off the thermostat to prevent further damage.

The most likely cause of this leak is either a blocked condensate clog line or your air filter is dirty. If the problem lies with your condensate line, a special vacuum will be required to suck out the blockage. It’s likely the blockage is made up of dirt, sludge, or mold. If it’s your air filter, that’s a simple fix: clean it. You should be cleaning your air filter every couple of weeks and replacing it every three months, or at the change of every season.

If you notice build-up accompanying the leak or that the leak is a weird color, you could have a serious issue: a refrigerant leak. That’s a clear sign it’s time for repair. At that point, call the professionals immediately before more significant damage happens.

Weird Sounds

It’s completely normal for your air conditioner to make some noise when it starts up and shuts down. This should sound like a low-level hum. But if you suddenly hear an unusual sound or a loud sound that isn’t customary for your air conditioner, pay attention. Here’s what could be going on:

  • Clicking in the outdoor unit as it runs: This is most likely an indicator that there’s a small obstruction in the fan of your outdoor unit. Check the fan and if you see anything that’s obviously not supposed to be there, remove it. It should go without saying, turn off your air conditioner before checking the fan.
  •  Clicking in the outdoor unit and it won’t turn on: The first thought that should cross your mind is that there’s an electrical problem. It could be in one or more of your electrical components. These repairs should be done by a professional.
  • Bubbling or gurgling: When you hear this, it’s most often the condensate line. This isn’t likely to cause larger issues. However, there’s a chance it could be a refrigerant leak, which would definitely lead to bigger issues. Check for any leaks or unusual smells accompanying the bubbling or gurgling.
  • Clanging or banging in the outdoor unit: In this case, it’s most likely the fan is hitting something. Rather than a small obstruction, this could be something large. It could also have to do with the fan itself. It’s possible the mounting bracket of the fan may have come loose, causing it to wobble and hit the protective case of your outdoor unit. Turn off your air conditioner and check the outdoor unit for large obstructions. If you don’t see anything, check the mount.
  • Squealing in the indoor unit: A squealing sound is almost always the fan belt. You might notice the squealing come and go or remain inconsistent. This is a sign the fan belt is damaged. If it’s damaged, it will inevitably break. If it breaks, that means your air conditioner will stop working entirely. It’s best to get your fan belt replaced at the first sign of damage rather than having your air conditioner break down unexpectedly.
  • Metal-on-metal screeching: This sound is most often associated with the outdoor unit. Often it’s the fan motor bearings going out on the outdoor unit. If this is the case, you could be looking at replacing your entire fan.
  • High-pitched hissing or screaming: This is a serious issue. It’s most likely an issue with your compressor that’s causing a high-pressure build-up. This is seriously dangerous and you should immediately hit the automatic shut-off for your system. If your system continues to try and run, turn off the system manually and immediately call a professional to come and assess the problem.

Poor Airflow

When your air conditioner is working properly, there should be a strong, consistent amount of airflow. If you notice a meek, wimpy airflow from your system, you could be facing an issue with your compressor or your ductwork. If you let the problem continue, the poor airflow won’t circulate properly and your home won’t maintain a cool climate.

An easy fix is to check the air filter. If you haven’t cleaned it in a while, this could be the issue. However, it could also be a broken motor. If you check the air filter and it’s clean, call the professionals. Consider asking them about an energy-recovery ventilator that will give your air conditioner a boost. This will exchange stale air for fresh air each time your system cycles. You could additionally benefit from a zoning system.


In Los Angeles, humidity shouldn’t be too much of an issue, especially if you have an air conditioner. A properly functioning air conditioner should filter out the humidity in your home to a comfortable level. If you notice humidity levels rising in your home, you could be facing a serious problem: mold.

Mold isn’t just unsightly (and a little icky). It could also seriously affect your health. Mold can lead to severe health problems that last a lifetime. If you start to notice a build-up of humidity, don’t hesitate; call the professionals to diagnose the problem as soon as possible.

Bad Smells

Your home should be a sanctuary. But if a bad smell turns your oasis into a choking hazard, it could be your air conditioner. If it is, there are many possible issues causing it. Two of the most common are electrical problems and mold problems.

Electrical problems will be accompanied by a burning smell. This is most often the wiring or insulation. If there’s a musty smell, you likely have mold. If this is the case, get it fixed as soon as possible. That musty smell means mold spores are being circulated throughout your home and being inhaled by you and your family. These can lead to lifelong health problems.

It’s possible the smelly issue could be resolved with a professional cleaning or a tune-up. Something to ask your HVAC professional about is a UV lighting system. These have shown to be effective in managing microbial growth. Don’t forget to have them clean your ducts, too.

Malfunctioning Thermostat

Your brain tells your body how to function. It’s how you’re reading this right now and breathing at the same time. For your air conditioning system, the thermostat is the brain. If it starts to malfunction, you could experience a dip in your cool home environment.

Because it tells the different components of your system what to do at specific times, a thermostat malfunction is an important thing to get fixed. If it’s too far gone, your thermostat may need to be replaced. However, have your HVAC professional check your compressor, as well. It may have failed.

Frequent Cycles

It’s normal for your system to cycle. Just like humans cycle from wakefulness to sleep and back again, your system will turn on and off as it maintains the temperature you want. But it shouldn’t constantly be turning on and off. If you notice it cycling more frequently, it might be time for a tune-up. This could be a sign it’s time for a new unit.

Frequent Repairs

You love your air conditioner when it’s working. That’s why you repair it when it breaks down. But what if it starts breaking down every month? Frequent repairs like this could be a sign it’s time to replace your unit. Eventually, the cost of the frequent repairs will outweigh the cost of a new unit. Your HVAC technician can advise you on your options.

High Utility Bills

No one likes paying bills. When the warm summer months hit, it’s normal for your energy bill to rise a little as you use your system more frequently. However, if you notice a huge spike that’s abnormal, it could be a sign that your system isn’t functioning at top efficiency.

One possible cause could be in your ductwork. There might be a blockage causing your system to work harder. Another possibility is an outdated thermostat. It might be time to upgrade to a smart thermostat. Or your unit could simply be reaching the end of its life. Ask your HVAC technician what your options are.


James Smith

As you can tell from our humble beginnings in 1981, we began as a family-owned business and stayed a locally owned air conditioning and heating company in Los Angeles county for nearly 40 years.